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But if they went on in this new way: they knew the magistrates were vehement against them; they saw the people, at best, would do nothing to support them; and the fate of their master was full before
In these circumstances, worldly advantage could not be their motive. And fondness of acquiring glory amongst their followers was not likely to overbalance the fear of punishment, in men of their education; especially in a number of them : besides that, humanly speaking, they could expect neither glory nor followers. And in fact they were held in the lowest contempt by most men, and honoured but by few. Or should we suppose, that contrary to all probability, and to the express notices given them, they looked for better treatment in carrying on their undertaking, than they found : yet when they perceived their disappointment, would no one of them have been so honest, as to own his error, and detect his accomplices; or at least so wise as to withdraw himself out of harm's way? Would they all have gone on, year after year, supporting persecution and death, one after another: neither taking warning nor complaining, but rejoicing and triumphing ? Hear only, what a description St. Paul gives of their and his own condition. God hath set forth us the Apostle's last, as it were appointed to death: we are made a spectacle unto the world:--even unto this present hour, we both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place; and labour, working with our own hands ;-we are made as the filth of the world, and are the off-scouring of all things unto this day*. Could they have chosen to bear this from any other principle, than that, which he elsewhere mentions ? We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed: perplexed, but not in despair: persecuted, but not forsaken: cast down, but not destroyed. We are always delivered unto death for Jesus sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh:
* 1 Cor. iv. 9. 11, 12, 13.
Knowing that he, which raised up the Lord Jesus, shall raise up us also by Jesus:--for which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day*. Nor were they affected in this heroic manner, only while death might possibly be at a distance from them; but the nearer it approached, the more they felt of the same spirit. I am now, saith St. Paul, ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
I hare fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which' the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day t. Can there be words in language more expressive of conscious integrity, and composed fortitude ?
But this was far from the whole excellence of that frame of mind, with which they met sufferings. Could they have delighted themselves with the thought of vengeance falling on their adversaries, either from men or from God, in the present life or in the next, it might possibly have given some poor consolation and support to corrupt nature under torments and death. But their master's rule was, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you I. Had he meant only to harden them into a bold unfeeling obstinacy, he would never have required of them such tenderness of kind affection towards adversaries : a temper
2 Cor. iv. 8, 9. 11. 14. 16. + 2 Tim. iv. 7, E. Matth v.
so very inconsistent with all the common excitements to courage in resisting them. And had they found themselves unable to attain such exalted virtue, to which none almost before them had even made
pretensions, they would have concealed or dropt his precept, or explained it away. But on the contrary, they professed it to its full extent. Though I gire my body to be burned, and have not charity, that is, universal love to all men, it profiteth me nothing *. And they practised it, as they professed it. Being reviled, we bless: being persecuted, we suffer it: being defamed, we intreat t. They expressed all the kind
, t ness, they made all the excuses, for their persecutors, which they possibly could. Thus the same St. Paul: I have great heaviness, and continual sorrow in my heart, for my brethren who are Israelites 1. My heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them rccord, that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge g. Nor was this their manner of speaking, only when at ease, or when they could hope to obtain favour by it: but, as the case of St. Stephen shews, their sentiments were the same, under the certainty, under the actual pains, of death itself, even when suddenly and tumultuously inflicted on them. For he prayed at once to the Lord Jesus, with his last breath, to receive his spirit, and to forgive them that stoned him.
Such was the blessed temper of the first witnesses to the Christian faith : and their successors inherited a noble degree of it. They could not indeed give an equally strong testimony to the original facts, on which it was built ; but they attested many subsequent ones of great importance. And not only their * 1 Cor. xiii. 3.
+ 1 Cor. iv, 12, 13. Rom. ix. 2, 3, 4.
Rom. X. 1, 2.
embracing it, as they did,contrary to all the prejudices of common opinion, and all the dictates of every wrong inclination, makes it necessary to presume, that they must have had powerful evidence for it: but their perseverance in professing it, amidst every thing terrible in life or death, fully proves them to have been thoroughly sincere, and singularly magnani
Indeed it proves further, that more than ordinary strength was vouchsafed to them from above. For though natural constancy and bravery have in some instances performed wonders, yet the performers have been few in proportion: whereas the primitive Christians in general of both sexes, all ages, , all ranks, underwent the most grievous inflictions with the calmest patience. Observe too : they could have little hope of distinguishing themselves in the opinion of their fellow-Christians by suffering. For, , though a few of the principal martyrs were highly honoured, yet the rest were too numerous, either to be remembered after their death, or have notice taken of them at the time of it. Nor did their intrepidity arise from being trained up to the resolution of martyrdom. For this would have often failed: and besides, new converts, just made, as boldly suffered death, as any others; nay, sometimes persecutors themselves became converts on the spot, and died with those whom they had brought to execution. Still it was not merely a sudden vehemence, which they catched one of another. For not only particular persons had often the leisure of long imprisonments to cool in : but the whole Church had many and considerable intervals of peace. Yet, whenever persecution began again, it found the generality of Christians in the same spirit, which they shewed before : respectful in the highest degree to
civil authority; but unmoveable to an equal degree from their duty to God: where they were ever so few, not to be forced or persuaded into the slightest. acts of idolatry; where they were ever so many, not to be provoked into a single attempt of rebellion; or into making or joining any party or faction for their own security; though the frequent changes in the state gave them inviting opportunities for it. In the comfortless exercise (for so it must appear to common spectators,) of this cool passive courage, infinitely more difficult than the active and enterprising sort, they patiently persevered for three hundred years. The wonderfulness of the behaviour moved men to inquire into the grounds of it: they found them good'; they came over; and the empire was become in effect Christian, before the emperors ceased to persecute.
The unjustifiable veneration addressed by the church of Rome to saints and martyrs hath deterred almost all the reformed Churches, except our own, from paying them even due honours. And now amongst ourselves, prejudice against religion in some, and indifference to it in others, hath made these excellent persons be regarded commonly, either with a malignant or a negligent eye. But if they, who have acted or suffered gallantly, for the liberties or other interests of a single nation, have been reverenced by distant ages, and all their faults hid under that one virtue; how much higher esteem do such patriots deserve, as have borne testimony with their blood against the tyranny of idolatry and immoral superstition; who have lived in misery and died in torment, to assert the faith of one wise and good Maker and Ruler of all, of pardon for sin, and assistance in virtue, derived to us by methods of in